Q&A: Karen Wood; Backstage Creations' president and founder

Karen Wood left a successful career as a talent coordinator for award shows to start Backstage Creations, focusing on the then-nascent field of celebrity gift-basket compiling.

Karen Wood left a successful career as a talent coordinator for award shows to start Backstage Creations, focusing on the then-nascent field of celebrity gift-basket compiling.

Now that gift baskets are reaching ubiquity - even at the Republican convention, Wood added an element she calls the "Celebrity Retreat" where corporate clients could interact in opulent settings with celebrities. She talked to PRWeek.com creating a new celebrity experience, her biggest success stories, and what might surprise the public about the celebrities they lionize. Q. What is Backstage Creation's mission? A. We call [what we do] celebrity gift collection, providing everything from gift baskets, which were around since before I started Backstage Creations, to the celebrity retreat, a concept I created back in 2000. I saw that gift baskets had certain limitations, so we created an area backstage that we found to be an extraordinary oasis. We bring an interior designer for the d?cor. You would think that it would be a glamorous environment with all of these celebrities backstage. It's actually completely the opposite. There are cables and equipment everywhere. You're stepping over dirty, grimy areas. We've created an area backstage where we can bring the highest-end items in luxury - both in the d?cor and with the gift products. We create an area that we feel is a little more along the lines of what celebrities are used to spending their time in. I thought producing the celebrity retreat would give our corporate clients additional exposure with the celebrities where they received face-to-face contact and feedback on their products and services. Q. How do you build and maintain your relationships with the awards shows? A. My background was as a talent coordinator at all the different awards shows that currently work with [Backstage Creations]. Because I had a good relationship with the celebrities and the producers of the shows, [Backstage Creations] was a natural extension. The producers allow me free reign backstage because they know I understand what is appropriate. I understand backstage protocol and I work within the system. Thus, I have annual contracts with them to do their events. Q. How do you prepare first-time gift-basket providers for the experience and how do they gauge their success? A. Every event is different. We let people know they should expect to meet the celebrities. It might be the first time that they've had celebrity interaction. [They need] to be prepared for that. They're meeting the celebrity, talking about their product line, and looking to get some reaction from them so they can gauge [a product's success]. Say a shoe company brings in brown, blue, and green shoes. If there's a run on the brown ones, that might translate to the public. The company might want to start producing some of the brown shoes simply because that may become a popular choice. Q. Do you need to teach the companies how to interact with the celebrities, such as having them mind their sales pitch? A. We have brief, on-site training at the beginning. We talk to our clients about what might be appropriate behavior around [the celebrities]. If they haven't spent much time around celebrities, there are certain parameters [to learn]. Obviously you want to appear professional; you don't want to ask for an autograph. Celebrities just really appreciate people being authentic. The retreat is about being yourself and being excited about your product. Clients also have to bear in mind that the time the celebrities spend in the retreat may be limited, so they can't go overboard with an hour dissertation of their product. Q. If something went wrong with a client-celebrity interaction, would you worry about it tarnishing your relationships with the celebrities and awards shows? A. Well, that's never happened. But I do know that our relationships with the celebrities are long-term ones. I can't imagine that anything would go wrong, but I'm sure if it did, we could easily smooth it over based on our relationship. Q. Tell us something that happens in the industry that would surprise a lot of people. A. People [forget] that celebrities cannot just go into a store and start shopping. If they head over to Barney's, they're going to spend a lot more time signing autographs then they would shopping for what they need. [The celebrity retreat] is an ideal place to look at the latest trends and products where it's quiet. Q. How do you get press for Backstage Creations? And do you focus more on your corporate clients or do you try to get your company's name in the media? A. I don't just look at the product companies as our only clients. The event producers, celebrities, and media are all also our clients. We want to make sure that everyone views this as a win-win situation. Our [first] goal is to get our clients' names out in the media because that's a home run for them and us. Obviously PR for Backstage Creations is great too. Our reputation is really what we rest on. Q. What made you decide to switch from being a talent coordinator to starting up Backstage Creations? A. I saw a niche in the market. I found that there was a limitation to gift baskets. I'm not putting gift baskets down, as we also produce them. But I found that the opportunity was priceless for companies to have a representative present to interact with the celebrities and to have the potential of establishing relationships with them. There was a need for that in the marketplace and no one was doing it at the time. Q. What's the best-case scenario for a client that partners up with Backstage Creations? A. We've had so many success stories. We've had great product placements, like with Bonnie Hunt and Garrett Popcorn. They met with Bonnie Hunt at the People's Choice Awards. She then insisted that her prop master put Garrett Popcorn on the table when she was taping her Super Bowl promo for the show. With Super Bowl ad rates, this is something this company could never have dreamed of. Because Bonnie loved the product, she became a personal champion. She did the film Cheaper By The Dozen with Steve Martin, and had the set designer build a Garrett Popcorn kiosk for an airport scene. You also can have the celebrities wearing the product on-stage. Lil' Romeo walked out on the Teen Choice Awards with a Sprint phone and placed a call on-air. That's priceless. You can't buy an endorsement like that. Q. With soaring ad rates and pundits proclaiming the death of the 30-second spot, do you think this is a rising marketplace for companies to better promote their product? A. I wouldn't even say this is "the wave of the future." This is the future. We're here... now. Five years ago, companies didn't even have a budget for this type of thing. Now it's just standard operating procedure. You have a line in your budget for celebrity placement. We're finding companies are asking, "Why put money towards advertising when it's such a finite type of situation where you don't know where the ROI is anymore with TiVo?" And while you can put it in films or television, what better placement is there than having someone from your company there to establish a relationship with the celebrity. We had a hair stylist client [William Whatley] who had a new line of hair products. N'Sync had met him at the Billboard Awards and, when the group saw him three weeks later at the American Music Awards, the members asked him to provide hair products for their tour. Here's someone who doesn't have a budget to sponsor N'Sync's tour, but now that they've asked him, he's included in all of the literature and the programs they handed out. He now has a [syndicated] show [Ambush Makeover].

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